SingaporeMotherhood | Baby & Toddler

March 2013

Coughing in Children: Home Remedies

Children are prone to suffer from sore throats and coughs. There are no known statistics on how often they get this illness. Says Dr Penny Lo, a general practitioner, “It is hard to put a number to this because it depends on the immunity of the child, and environmental factors like whether the child goes to childcare where it is easy to transmit the illness”.

Depending on the seasons, including wind direction, the peak season for this illness in most of Asia, all of Europe and North America plus half of Africa, is from October to February. However, for most of Indonesia (which is in another hemisphere) plus most of South America, half of Africa and all of Australia, the peak season is from June to August.
Dr Lo also reckons that traveller-heavy Singapore probably experiences two peak periods per year where kids have a higher chance to catch the virus.

Cough Facts

The good news is that coughing is actually a defence mechanism to protect our throats and airways from irritants. The bad news: there really is nothing much you can do when your child has a cough.

Coughs usually last about three to five days and clear up on their own. Some may linger for as long as two to three weeks.

Coughs are particularly persistent in children with an underlying allergy history that “predisposes them to increased inflammation and thus, prolonged cough,” explains Dr Lo.

Coughs and their accompanying irritations usually do not require any treatment. Doctors can only prescribe symptomatic relief.

Dr Lo, who is also a mother of five says, “I would advise my patients to eat less fried and spicy food, as well as things like chocolates and tidbits, especially when the kid has a flu – they are not healthy anyway. I would tell them to drink lots of fluids, eat more vegetables and fruits, except citrus fruits like oranges which are known to trigger phlegm and cough.”

She adds, “Some herbal cough medications containing ivy leaf extract are useful and safe for young children”.

But when a cough keeps your child from having a good night’s sleep or enjoying her activities, you may wish to take action to ease her discomfort. The following are some traditional methods of cough relief that have been passed down from generation to generation. They’ve all been mum-tested!


1. Steamed orange and salt

A mother of two young girls, Roni Tam, recalls a recipe that her mother taught her. It is popular in Hong Kong, where she comes from, and also in China. How to do it: Clean the skin of an orange. Cut off the top part of the orange, spread salt on the surface and use a fork to poke the orange to let the salt dissolve in it. Return the top part of the orange, place the whole orange onto a bowl, and steam it under medium heat for 15 minutes. Eat the orange, and drink the remaining liquid in the bowl. Repeat for five days.

2. Ginger water

Ms. Tam also recommends ginger water. How to do it: Cut up and boil old ginger – which has h3er flavour than young ginger – for about 20 minutes. Add some rock sugar to the ginger solution, and drink it. A diluted version of this concoction is safe for children to consume.

3. Honey

Mimi Tjong, a mother of three, swears by this, saying that it is time-tested and that it works. How to do it: Stir one teaspoon of honey in warm water and drink the solution. Do this once in the morning and once at night. Any kind of honey will do.

coughing kid

4. Honey-lemon-ginger mix

Angela W. M., a jewellery designer from Tanzania who is a mother of three teenagers, has a personal favourite – ginger-lemon tea. How to do it: Brew a tea out one tablespoon of grated ginger and half a lemon with two cups of water. Heat the mixture until it boils, then turn the fire off and allow it to steep for about 20 minutes. Stir in two tablespoons of honey, then drink. You can also add one clove of minced garlic before boiling, for its antibiotic properties.


1. Steam it up

Fill the bath with hot water and let it steam up the bathroom. A hot shower can work too. Close the door and window, and turn off the exhaust fan if there is one. Breathing in the steam helps break up nasal congestion. Let your child shower in the steamed bathroom to help her feel better.

2. Get (even more) humid!

As an alternative to steaming up the bathroom, try using a cool-mist humidifier. Place one humidifier in the bedroom where she sleeps to help her breathe better, and hence sleep better.

3. Do a Nasal spray

Unlike highly processed table salt, sea salt has health benefits which include reducing inflammation in the respiratory system. Thus, letting your child use sea salt nasal spray can help slow down the production of phlegm – which would in turn help the coughing subside.

4. Ban the air-conditioner

Turn off the air-conditioner. If it is too uncomfortable to sleep without it, set the temperature to about 25 to 26 degrees Centigrade and aim the blower away from your child.


Coughing Etiquette

An influenza virus – which transfers via droplets and respiratory secretions – can survive up to 48 hours on hard surfaces, up to 12 hours on tissue paper, and about five minutes on hands. Remind your child that germs are not meant to be shared, and teach her how to stop the spread if she is infected.

1. Cover her mouth and nose with a piece of tissue paper when she coughs or sneezes.
2. Throw the used tissue paper into the rubbish bin.
3. Wash her hands with soap or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
4. Get your child to wear a paper face mask when she is around others.

When to See a Doctor

The early days of coughs are not to be overly worried about. But if one or more of the symptoms below persist, it would be best to have a doctor check on your child.

1. Wheezy: when her breathing is wheezy and sounds turbulent or restricted.
2. Lengthy: when she has been coughing for more than three weeks, and it is worsening and affecting her sleep.
3. High temperature: if there is a persistent fever of 38 degrees Celsius and beyond for three days.
4. Uneven breathing: if she is breathing much faster than usual.
5. Too young: when the feverish and coughing child is less than three months old.
6. Bluish: when her lips or face turn a blue and dusky colour.

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Coughing in Children: Home Remedies